EU should develop united China stance
with Chinese art, he said relations between China and most EU members are vibrant in terms of trade, investment, tourism, education and cultural exchanges.
And many European state leaders have forged closer personal relationships with their Chinese counterparts, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, as they have deepened strategic cooperation.
“But when they are together (as the European Union), they want the EU to be tough with China,” Defraigne said. “I think they are playing a double game, and it puts the EU in an extremely uncomfortable position because of this lack of unity.”
He said the stance freezes the Brussels-Beijing relationship and means difficulties cannot be solved.
As a veteran official who has worked as a cabinet head for two European commissioners, Defraigne said the EU’s poor interaction with China is not the result of its wanting to cause offense but a reflection of its being “helpless” to unite its members.
And in the absence of a united front, the EU has relied heavily upon Washington in formulating its stances toward Beijing. He said this means the EU is no longer a separate entity.
“It is EU-American leadership,” he contended.
There are many examples of the EU’s inability to make the decisions needed to move the BrusselsBeijing relationship forward. For years, Brussels has failed to lift an arms embargo against Beijing. It has also failed to grant market economy status to China, which is now the world’s second-biggest economy.
He said it seems as if Brussels is not ready to fulfill the commitments it agreed to when Beijing was admitted to the WTO, something Defraigne was closely involved in while working as cabinet head for trade commissioner Pascal Lamy.
Defraigne believes the fact that Brussels takes its lead from Washington means it is not able to make “seemingly strategic decisions”.
Currently, the EU said a stronger relationship with Washington is high on its agenda. The European Commission’s website puts the EU-US partnership among its top 10 priorities.
But Defraigne said Brussels must reprioritize.
“I am quite optimistic that Brussels will adjust its mindset,” he said. “Now, Brussels needs to take action in pushing forward the triangle relationship of China, the EU and US, under the framework of global governance reform.”
He suggested the construction of a new platform for dialog.
“Ideally, this should be a submechanism under the G20 where leaders can meet,” Defraigne said.
He believes such a mechanism would help Brussels better position itself in the changing global system and urges both the EU and US to note what is happening with China, at home and abroad.
He said China has done well in implementing structural reforms since the 2008-09 financial crisis that originated on Wall Street, something that led him to call for the reform of models of capitalism.
But he said the US has found it extremely difficult to implement such changes because of political reasons, market forces, lobbyists and global companies that have overwhelmed the political system.
“I don’t think the EU is under pressure to the same extent as New York and Washington, but our firms are as big and powerful as the American ones,” Defraigne said. “But the key point is there: Politics must take over from the markets. When you have broken the system, you have to change the system. This is what China is doing.”
He said the US and Europe should also follow China’s lead in domestic reforms and accumulating publicsector wealth, which is crucial for those on the lower rungs of the social ladder.
Internationally, Defraigne said, it is encouraging that Beijing is taking the lead on issues, especially in pushing the Paris climate change agreement into effect, which will happen on Nov 4.
China is on the way to achieving changes in its economic growth pattern toward green competitiveness, which will positively influence global engagement on sustainable development, he said.
But he believes some forces in the US are hesitant to implement the obligations taken on by President Barack Obama.
Defraigne believes China’s active role in pushing the Paris agreement forward is as important as its joining of the WTO 15 years ago, when it was an existing structure built up by the West for its own benefit.
“Now, China is among the founding actors of this new branch, whose impact has become more and more important,” he said. “For me, China’s joining the Paris agreement is a good movement for the future and the world.”
And China is actively engaging in many other ways. It has fairly completed its mandate as a member of the WTO and proven to be a faithful member.
“And, in addition to the Paris agreement engagement, I personally think China is on the right track,” he said. “We have to enjoy that development and now be up to the challenges.
Pierre Defraigne, a veteran think tank economist, says the EU should coordinate its general strategy with China and the US.